DETROIT — Lincoln is getting a new car and a new name designed to reverse 20 years of falling sales.
The 97-year old luxury brand, synonymous with presidential limos and black Town Cars, has returned to its original name, Lincoln Motor Co. Ford’s luxury brand hopes the name will help restore the brand’s luster as the new MKZ sedan goes on sale this month.
Lincoln Motor Co. founder Henry Leland – who also started Cadillac – named the company after his hero, Abraham Lincoln. He sold it to Ford, which wanted a luxury brand, in 1922.
Lincoln Motor Co. was used in advertising all the way through the 1970s and 1980s, but had fallen out of use more recently, Lincoln chief Jim Farley said. That’s not unlike the brand itself, whose sales have been slipping since buyers began defecting to foreign brands such as Lexus and BMW in the 1990s.
Ford is depending on the MKZ to start reversing that slide. It’s the first of seven new or revamped Lincolns due out by 2015.
The MKZ, which was unveiled in concept form at the Detroit Auto Show last January, is longer and wider than the current version. It starts at $35,925, or about the same as its archrival, the Lexus ES 350. A hybrid version is the same price.
Among its features are a push-button transmission instead of a shifter and an optional panoramic glass roof. It still has Lincoln’s split-wing grille, a tribute to the 1938 Zephyr and one of the brand’s most recognizable features. But designers made the grille thinner and tapered, and its bars are horizontal instead of vertical.
Lincoln was the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S. two decades ago, when sedans such as the Continental and the Town Car were the pinnacle of luxury and elegant, uncluttered design. But Ford bought up other luxury brands – Jaguar and Volvo – and ignored Lincoln. Its lackluster products couldn’t compete in the hotly contested luxury market.
Lincoln now has the lowest U.S. sales of any luxury brand, with about 75,000 vehicles sold in the U.S. so far this year. BMW has sold more than four times that number.
Ford has sold off its other luxury brands so it can concentrate on Lincoln. Ford has hired former football star Emmitt Smith as Lincoln’s new pitchman.